Russia has temporarily restricted the import of all Sri Lankan agricultural products, including tea.
This is after an alleged detection of a beetle in the packaging on one consignment of tea from the island. The restriction, announced by Russian agricultural safety watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, will go into effect on December 18.
Reached for comment, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mahishini Colonne said, “This is a matter of serious concern for the authorities in Sri Lanka, and the relevant local stakeholders and Russian authorities are being consulted with a view to address the issue.”
In a press release, the Sri Lanka Tea Board expressed doubt that the beetle, of the Khapra subspecies, assuredly came from Sri Lanka.
“This beetle is a pest of grain crops such as rice, and has never been associated with tea. The Sri Lanka Tea Board is of the view that the specimen discovered in the packaging material may have remained in the shipping container concerned following the use of this container for the transport of grain on a previous occasion, not necessarily of Sri Lankan origin.”
Still, the Tea Board expressed its continued desire to protect the standards and quality for which Ceylon tea is renowned worldwide, adding that they are “working with tea producers and exporters to ensure that phytosanitary and other standards are rigorously followed in all shipments of tea originating in Sri Lanka.” As well, they iterated their belief that the present case, if in fact genuine, is an isolated incident.
The Tea Board’s statement also reiterated the temporary nature of Russia’s restrictions, which will only last until the completion of negotiations and clarification of the situation. Accordingly, Minister of Plantation Ministries Navin Dissanayake will visit Russia as soon as the necessary logistical arrangements are made and work with his Russian counterparts to resolve this problem. The statement emphasized that the Ministry of Plantation Industries and the Sri Lanka Tea Board are working very closely with all the relevant agencies of government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Commerce, to restore normal trade between the two countries as soon as possible. Currently, Sri Lankan tea imports make up approximately 23% of Russia’s tea market, according to Russia’s Rusteacoffee association. Speaking to Russia’s RIA news agency, the head of Rusteacoffee said that its members will ask the Rosselkhoznadzor to resume tea imports from Sri Lanka but with tougher controls.